A VIP Embraer aircraft carrying External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj to Mauritius, on her way to South Africa, had gone incommunicado for 14 minutes, triggering a mid-air scare after the Air Traffic Control of the island nation pressed the panic button, an official statement said today.
The Mauritian ATC could not establish contact with the Indian Air Force flight IFC 31 after it entered that country's airspace yesterday, the Airports Authority of India (AAI) said in a statement.
But instead of waiting for the mandatory 30 minutes, the Mauritian ATC activated the uncertainty phase, known as INCERFA in aviation parlance, it said.
The Ministry of External Affairs has not commented on the issue so far.
"Mauritius ATC activated the uncertainty phase without allowing the stipulated time period of 30 minutes to lapse from the time when the aircraft last contacted ATC. This was perhaps done because the flight was carrying a VIP," the AAI said.
The flight had left for Mauritius from Thiruvananthapuram at 2.08 pm. The Male ATC had established contact with the flight at 4.44 pm IST after it entered the airspace of the Maldives from the Indian airspace.
The IFC 31 could not contact the Mauritius ATC after entering the Mauritian airspace, causing panic. However, there was a sigh of relief when the aircraft came in contact with the ATC there at 4.58 pm, the AAI said.
Since the Embraer-135 aircraft, carrying the minister, does not have a long range, it had stopovers at Thiruvananthapuram and Mauritius for refuelling.
Government sources said the crew of the flight followed the laid down procedure to deal with the situation.
Swaraj, on Sunday arrived in South Africa on a five-day visit during which she will attend the BRICS and IBSA meets -- the two major groups where India has been playing a major role. She will also meet the top leadership of the country.
BRICS is a five-nation economic bloc comprising Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, while IBSA is a platform for India, Brazil and South Africa to cooperate on matters of common interest in respect of global governance issues, including in the security domain.
An official conversant with the ATC issues over the Indian Ocean region told PTI that the problem in contacting the flight could have arisen due to weak radar coverage as flights have to rely on VHF communication, which have their own set of issues.
The uncertainty phase is the first of the three emergency phases, the other two being the alert phase and the distress phase.
During her transit halt in Mauritius, Swaraj met Prime Minister of the island nation Pravind Kumar Jugnauth.
According to External Affairs Ministry spokesperson Raveesh Kumar, enhancing the ties between India and Mauritius was the focus of the meeting.
Swaraj also had an interaction with her Mauritian counterpart Seetanah Lutchmeenaraidoo.
First Published: IST